Friday, March 30, 2007

Musicians must also blog

If you're an aspiring musician, forget the demo tape or CD...and start blogging.

That's the word from Sony BMG, the world's second-largest music company, which has announced that it will no longer accept hard copy formats. A Reuters article quotes Ged Doherty, Sony BMG's U.K. and Ireland Music Entertainment chairman and chief executive, on the change. He said:
"Blogging is clearly one of the major trends in music, media and it makes complete sense for the major labels to use the process in a creative way to encourage, discover and communicate with new artists."

Doherty added that he hoped the new blog initiative would help break down the barriers between new artists and music companies.

Sony BMG is following the lead of social networking sites such as Bebo and MySpace, which already bring together musicians and music fans.

Explore the "big picture" of this story at

Monday, March 19, 2007

Commemorating four years in Irag

If you want to see how far we haven't gotten in Iraq, read today's post by Jonathan Schwarz on the This Modern World blog.

Schwarz lets two quotes from President Bush tell the story -- one from the start of the war four years ago, and one from today. That says it better than I ever could.

by Tom Tomorrow is one of my favorite political strips. You can read the latest one on

Flashback to a war protest

I'd just scanned an article about the Iraq War protests, and moved on to an article about a student free-speech case, when I ran smack-dab into a flashback.

What set it off? It was this paragraph in the NYT article, Free-Speech Case Divides Bush and Religious Right:
Mr. Fredericks’s ensuing lawsuit...pits official authority against student dissent. It is the first Supreme Court case to do so directly since the court upheld the right of students to wear black arm bands to school to protest the war in Vietnam, declaring in Tinker v. Des Moines School District that “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
I remember that. I remember wearing a black arm band at school, and I remember Mr. Day, the conservative civics teacher, angrily challenging me and another student in the hallway. "Do you know what you're doing?" he asked, sure that we were just following the crowd, thoughtlessly aping the college crowd whose protests were then making headlines.

I may not have know exactly what I was doing, but I knew this: the Vietnam War was still raging, the draft was still in place, and a couple of my good friends had just drawn low numbers in the draft lottery...which meant that if they weren't accepted into a college, they'd have to decide whether to enlist, wait to be drafted...or make a run for Canada.

Tough choices, especially for young men who hadn't even finished high school yet. Beyond the mounting death toll and our growing awareness of the utter futility of the war, that one thing was enough to warrant black arm bands...a visible sign of mourning for all the lives already lost, and for the next crop of young men about to be thrown into the war's relentless maw.

Today marks four years and counting for the Iraq War. Is the situation really any different now (except for the draft, of course)?

Maybe it's time to start wearing those black armbands again.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Serendipity, Trains, and Celluloid Dreams

In less than six months, I'm a convert. I love trains.

It all started last fall, with a confluence of events: gas prices spiking at more than $3.00 per gallon and a semester where I had to be on campus four days a week, instead of my normal two. I live 35 miles from campus, so it added up to a lot of time spent on the highway and a lot of money spent on gas. I decided it was time to start taking the train.

I'm lucky; there's a CalTrain stop about a mile from my house. It backs up to Bay Meadows racetrack, so sometimes I even get to watch horses breeze around the track while I'm waiting for the train.

I like almost everything about trains...the size and heft and noise of a passing train...the excited clamor of the crossing gate alarms, and the distinctive, rhythmic clang of each train's bell as it approaches the station.

I like it that CalTrain cars are two stories high and I can look up to them. I like waving at the engineer in his high perch at the front of the train (southbound) as it pulls into the station.

And I like the notion that the train doesn't turn around. Instead, after delivering the last of his riders to San Jose, the engineer simply puts it in reverse and backs up all the way to San Francisco.

I like the people on trains too. Yesterday I sat across from two guys, obviously movie buffs, chatting with one of the conductors. Between stops, the conductor, a former prop man, told tales of working and partying with actors like Micheal J. Fox. And the guys, Tim Sika and Larry Jakubecz, talked about some of their favorite movies and some of actors and directors they've interviewed for their radio show, Celluloid Dreams (which desperately needs to update its web page). The show airs Mondays at 5 p.m. on 90.5 KSJS-FM, the campus radio station at San Jose State...where I happen to teach.

Small world, right? But there's more....

Turns out Sika and Jakubecz really want to figure out how to create RSS feeds, so they can post podcasts of their radio show for all the world to hear...and I just happen to be teaching a new media class this semester that includes a segment on podcasting...and I have an RSS guru lined up for next week's class.

Sometimes the stars are aligned, and the right people meet at just the right time. Sometimes a penchant for chatting with strangers is a good thing.

I'm looking forward to seeing my new friends in class next week...and maybe on the train.

To read a Spartan Daily News feature on Celluloid Dreams and its hosts, click here.

How do we feel?

Part art project, part social tracks the current mood of blog posts.

Organized like a musical piece in a series of "movements," this web site lets you sample the mood of what's currently being blogged. In the first movement, "madness," a swarm of dots, colored bright to dark, represents the varied moods of current blog posts. Click on a dot and you'll get a random, representative sentence or photo from a blog.

The "Mobs" movement displays the most commonly blogged feelings. Creators Jonathan Harris and Dep Kamvar write: "In this movement, the particles self-organize into rows of shared feelings. The rows are sorted by the number of particles they contain, and the particles within each row are sorted by the length of the sentence that each particle contains. The rows are colored to inherit the chosen color of the feeling they represent. Any particle can be clicked to reveal the sentence within."

When you click on a specific word, you get a sample, an excerpt from someone's blog. It's oddly fascinating, and very voyeuristic.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Is podcasting the new marketing?

A Tennessee writer friend of mine, frustrated in his efforts to get an agent or publisher interested in a novel he’d written with SciFi overtones, once described his plight as “no room at the genre.” If you were an unpublished author, he said, and your book didn’t fit neatly into an existing genre, you were probably out of luck.

That was 10 or 12 years ago, and it hasn’t gotten any easier. In fact, with the loss of so many independent bookstores and the continuing consolidation of publishing houses, if anything it’s gotten harder to get a first book published.

So determined writers are having to change tactics and find other paths to publication. My friend now publishes his stories online at his website, Tall Tales to Go. Here's a link to one of his tales, Can Aliens Be Angels? Or the Search for Armaggedon in Ol' Man Kelsey's Woods, a science fiction novelette.

Other writers are turning to podcasting to get their stories in front of an audience…and to attract the interest of a publisher.

An article in the Sunday Book Review section of the New York Times, Authors Find Their Voice, and Audience, in Podcasts, focuses on one such author, San Franciscan Scott Sigler, who writes “science-fiction horror novels.” The article notes:

After being snubbed by publishers for years, Mr. Sigler began recording his first book, EarthCore, in 2005. He offered it as a podcast in 22 episodes (roughly 45 minutes each) that he posted online and sent free to subscribers for downloading. Before long, Mr. Sigler had 5,000 listeners; by the time he finished releasing his second novel, Ancestor, last January, he had 30,000, as he does for The Rookie, which is playing now.

“A lot of no-name authors like me are getting massive grass-roots exposure, and some of us are going to percolate to the top and get on the best-seller list,” said Sigler, who now has a publisher and an agent.

Here’s the link to the prologue to Sigler’s first novel, Earthcore, which he recorded in a walk-in closet that serves as his podcasting center. You’ll note that it includes background music and sound effects, characteristics that distinguish it and many other podcast novels from audio books.

One web site now offering books as podcasts is It now lists about 100 titles, including many science fiction and fantasy.

(Cross-posted on Jour 163 class blog.)